February 05, 2018

Minding the Gap: Inequality, Socioemotional Comparisons, and Risk-Sensitivity

Sandeep Mishra, University of Regina

Substantial epidemiological evidence shows that higher levels of income inequality are associated with a wide array of negative societal-level outcomes, ranging from greater risk-taking and crime to poorer mental and physical health. However, surprisingly little research has examined individual-level consequences of inequality. Risk-sensitivity theory, developed in the field of behavioral ecology, may help to shed light on why inequality has such wide-ranging harmful effects. Risk-sensitivity theory specifically posits that that risk-taking is a product of conditions of need (i.e., disparity between one's present and desired/goal states). In this presentation, I explore how risk-sensitivity can be applied to understanding risk-taking under conditions of inequality. I also address research suggesting that proximate-level emotional reactions to social comparisons and disparity can shed light on risk-sensitive decision-making specifically, and mental health more generally.